Low-Tech is Still Okay!!


ImageI’ve talked with a bunch of teachers and administrators out there who are grappling with adding technology into their classrooms and schools.  It’s not an easy thing to do, as we all know, and I find that oftentimes teachers think that once they have technology in their classrooms that it means that EVERYTHING they do with kids needs to use the technology products.

It just isn’t so.

Just because you have an interactive white board (IWB) in your room doesn’t mean that everything you do should be “whole class!”  Just because you have clickers doesn’t mean that every time you want to do a formative assessment you need to use them!  There are plenty of things that are still done well (and quite possibly better) with our old, low-tech ways of yesteryear.

Need to differentiate your instruction and materials but don’t know how to do small group work with an IWB?  Don’t try!  You can split your kids into groups and make the IWB one of the stations at which they’ll work.  Have your kids out of the classroom for an event or assembly?  Needless to say, you’re not bringing your clickers with you.  But guess what?  Colored construction paper and even (gasp) raised hands can still serve your purpose of taking a quick formative assessment.

Here’s the thing: in theory, adding technology to the classroom is supposed to make it easier to do cool and different things that you can’t really do with low tech approaches.  Like surf the internet looking for cool pictures of bugs that you’re studying.  Or collecting formative assessment data automatically to be perused later.  Or, one of my favorites, to experience a truly customized, adaptive, instructional program that gives me just what I need as a learner.  It’s not supposed to give teachers a giant headache as they work hard never to be “caught” using a low-tech approach.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think the newest, coolest gadgets for the classroom are awesome.  I just ask, on behalf of all of us, that we add a dose of sanity and think about why we are using these tools.  And then make sure we’re not adding technology just for technology’s sake.  I hope we can all be fine with some things, appropriate things, being done “the old-fashioned way.”

Watch out…I’ll start making my pitch for actual paper books that you can touch and smell.  (You book lovers know what I mean!)  And now you may throw rotten fruit…

The original of this photo appears on http://www.givekidsgoodschools.com/

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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9 Responses to Low-Tech is Still Okay!!

  1. Michael says:

    To steal your first line, I have talked with a bunch of teachers and administrators who would love to have the luxury of grappling with technology instead of grappling with no technology. That being said, I couldn’t agree with you more. There are many times that the low tech approach is easier and more time efficient.

    • karen mahon says:

      Touche, Michael, touche! I think my post falls under the category of what they call “first world problems,” yes?

      Needless to say, I agree that no technology is the much worse problem. But you really don’t want to get me started on my rant about schools being funded by local property taxes, do you?!?

  2. If Panera Bakery can put wireless in all of their outlets, get everyone to connect while they are there with their own devices, and keep everyone eating and drinking-can somebody tell me why schools can’t do the same? Adopt what I call the Panera Principle with school technology– robust wireless access, Bring Your Own Device, anytime anywhere school

    • karen mahon says:

      I’m all for that! My take is that schools are still struggling with the whole “control” issue with BYOD. I think it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s just a matter of “when.” BYOD is coming, whether some like it or not. How about if we look at making instruction engaging, interesting and fun…might take some of the appeal away from the “forbidden” surfing!

      • I am glad we are on the same page. The first step to making instruction fun is to ask students what they want to know about? The second step is to explore what you are instructing people in with the same tools they use outside of the classroom. The “how you do it” of the classroom far more significant in the future than “what you are doing” is. Hand helds and tablets are fast becoming ubiquitous every where but in school!!!

        • karen mahon says:

          I think it’s okay to ask students what they want to know about as a starting point. But I don’t think that only those things students say they want to know about should comprise the entire curriculum. I think it’s still important to agree, as a society, a minimum level of performance that all kids should accomplish in school, by topic, so that we’re fulfilling our responsibility to produce capable, confident citizens.

          I agree that devices are becoming ubiquitous…I’m as anxious as you are for schools to catch up!

          • Schools will only catch up when we throw out the present school paradigm. The only thing we need to teach is how to read. The challenge for the teacher is to connect what students want to know with the curriculum, to make the collected view of reality (knowledge) valuable to the student’s quest for their own reality. It is an extraordinary calling that none of us answer perfectly. It is a vocation, not a job!!

            • karen mahon says:

              Whew! I’m usually pretty controversial, but you’ve got me beat! I agree wholeheartedly with your first and last sentences. It’s the middle I’m struggling with. It’s hard for me to agree that we only need to teach Reading when I look at where we are in STEM subjects and where the world economy is moving. Can I imagine an extremely elaborate system where the student expresses a simple interest in throwing a ball and somehow the teacher manages to keep sparking that interest in small steps until that student expresses interest in quantum physics? Maybe. But it’s a stretch. The expectation that a student who doesn’t know much about a subject would be responsible for choosing what he or she is interested in is just really tough for me to imagine being effective.

  3. Let me be honest (and people who know me will agree), I have a tendency to “over-think” things. This “skill” comes from a desire to see a situation from all aspects, consider all points of view and have a plan for any contingency. Technology, in all of its glorious forms, has often added a layer or two of complexity to my thought process. I think it’s important to remember that technology is a tool. A tool is a) only as good as the person using it and b) not always appropriate in every situation. We’ve all heard the story of trying to use a screwdriver when a hammer is really what’s needed for the situation. I was having a conversation with a former manager, and I was prattling on and on about all of the different ways we could use technology to solve an issue — we were after all a computer training company. After I was done presenting all of my options, he looked at me and said “Use a pencil.” It was his way of telling me that there are times where the simplest — and often “low tech” option — is the best. It has stuck with me ever since.

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